Risk is everywhere. Crossing the street. Changing lanes. Joining a pickup basketball game. Digging in the yard. Some risk we take for granted—most drivers observe the red light, so we go ahead and cross the street; after all, we want to get to the other side.
On projects, risk gets more complicated. There are unmarked roads to navigate with possible bumps or ditches around every curve. The consequences of being surprised can be costly. But managing projects in fear can also be damaging because risks are tied to rewards. And so risk management is part discipline, part art—a balancing act that requires courage on the part of project managers, teams and stakeholders.
Successful organizations understand that managing risk is as important as managing the schedule, budget or scope. They know unaddressed risks can threaten a project but also recognize that many risks carry potential benefits that can improve the outcome beyond original expectations.
In one sense, risk management at its best is an entrepreneurial endeavor. Data-gathering, analysis and identification are fundamental, but the big payoffs come when new decisions lead to redefined project plans that capitalize on the learnings and opportunities that risks can bring. The huge challenge for most organizations is to build an infrastructure that allows, in fact encourages, creative responses to risk.
Unfortunately, in many organizations risks are handled like hot potatoes—juggled and tossed from person to person, or buried. No one want to hear the bad news, but the silence can be deafening and far from golden. In this environment, stakeholders often receive much worse news later, when it is much more damaging.
A related barrier to better risk management is mistrust—or perhaps, just a lack of faith in new ideas or approaches. Sponsors are uncomfortable with redefining a project in the middle of it. They feel they are losing control.
But to manage uncertainty on transformative projects where unknowns are the rule, not the exception, continuous redefinition is the only way to go. There is still oversight, but it observes other criteria. You're no longer solely monitoring progress to the goal; you're also monitoring—and responding to—what you are learning along the way.
At its heart and soul, risk management is a conversation. It's looking at tradeoffs with your partners and stakeholders and saying, 'Here are the things that could happen. Do we need to take action now? Do we need to change our project plan? Do we go for it?'"
But if political realities, resource limits or a silo infrastructure conspire to make that conversation difficult if not impossible, project managers still should do everything possible to keep the discussion alive on their teams. Most team members are eager to talk about risk once they believe they can do so openly without being tagged complainers.
So let's be risk-aware, not risk-averse. Let's be risk opportunists, not risk opponents. It's a shift in mindset that offers great rewards.
Would we ask the New York Philharmonic to play Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony faster, or to play the Ninth Symphony and the Seventh Symphony at the same time — you know, to be more productive? No, of course not.
But how often are project teams expected to juggle multiple roles and assignments, and to do so in unrealistic timeframes?
Doing things faster — and often at the same time — has become a way of life for working professionals (not to mention moms, students, and anyone else trying to cope with modern life). Project managers and their team members are no exception.
There you are, responding to dozens of emails before 8 a.m., simultaneously fielding random calls, updating information for three projects, and on your way to a status meeting, which you will leave early to attend another meeting about something else, while having a conversation in the hallway … deep breath, you are truly a mover and shaker. Or maybe you’re just moving and shaking?
In the digital age, we're taking productivity and efficiency to new levels, but it’s not always a badge of honor. At the least, we need to consider what productivity really means. It seems "faster" or "leaner" are the favored definition these days. I'm afraid that outlook is leading to a lot of high-speed crashes.
We’re losing touch with equally important factors like craft, care, culture and quality — never mind the value of finding pride in our work.
Tim Jackson, a professor at the University of Surrey and author of Prosperity Without Growth: Economics for a Finite Planet, says there are many work sectors where “chasing productivity doesn’t make sense at all,” and that “certain kinds of tasks rely inherently on the allocation of people’s time and attention.” Attention!
Jackson cites a number of examples: teachers teaching ever bigger classes at the expense of actually educating students ... nurses stretched to the breaking point who are losing empathy for their patients. To take his point further, he writes, “What would be gained by asking the New York Philharmonic to play Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony faster and faster each year?”
To that question, I’ll add: And what is to be gained by asking project teams to hurry up and deliver “results” that do not, in the end, deliver real value? "Fail fast" is one thing. Fail because you're rushing for no good reason is quite another.
More studies show plainly that this 24/7 full-throttle approach to work (and to life) is destructive and diminishing — to mental and physical well-being, and to our ability to be strategic and innovate.
In the sound and fury of this "faster, faster" management/economic model, we need to mix in a few “wait a minute” moments to question all this hyper-productivity. Because doing more with less, or doing it faster, is often just doing it worse. And who has time for that?
What's Your PMTQ? That's the question posed by Project Management Institute's 2019 Pulse of the Profession report: The Future of Work: Leading the Way With PMTQ.
So before you answer, you might have a question — what is PMTQ? It stands for project management technology quotient. PMTQ is "a person's ability to adapt, manage and integrate technology based on the needs of the organization or the project at hand."
PMTQ is in demand in organizations, large and small. It's a "must-have, make-or-break skill set," according to the report, which defines a high PMTQ by three key characteristics and examples:
1. Always-on curiosity. You're always looking for what's next—trying out new approaches, exploring new ideas, testing new technologies. High PMTQ project leaders and organizations use initial projects as experiments.
2. All-inclusive leadership. You're maximizing the potential of your team regardless of each individual's age, experience, digital knowledge, skill set or location High PMTQ project leaders don't just "manage" people; they advocate.
3. A future-proof talent pool. Your company is recruiting, training and retaining project professionals who possess "digital age" skills as well as the will and ability to adapt their skills according to new trends. High PMTQ organizations invest in developing their workforce along with their offerings.
How do you rate yourself and your organization on these three characteristics? Low or high, there is always work to be done when it comes to PMTQ because, well, the technology landscape is always changing while digital disruption is here to stay.
The Future of Work report recommends a number of processes and capabilities, borrowed from PMTQ innovators, to help organizations and individuals boost their PMTQ. (Some are obvious, such as providing ongoing project management training and defining a career path for project managers. But it's often the case that what is "obvious" is not always what is done.)
For me the most revealing insight from the Future of Work report is that high PMTQ organizations—and by extension, their project leaders and teams—"demonstrate a strong ability to shift their way of getting work done." The report found that they are twice as likely as low PMTQ organizations to use hybrid project management practices (60 percent to 29 percent). Similar differences are found in their use of change management, design thinking, Agile and DevOps approaches.
High PMTQ organizations enjoy higher stakeholder satisfaction rates, less waste and better project outcomes, according to the report. Indeed, PMTQ = ROI — but not just for businesses. The ROI can be yours, too, in the form of advancement, opportunity and satisfaction. Invest in yourself.
Organizations are ramping up investment in AI, data and analytics initiatives to accelerate business agility, but a vast majority of them are struggling with business transformation in general, and cultural challenges are by far their biggest obstacle to adoption. Those are key conclusions from the 2019 New Vantage Partners Big Data and AI Executive survey.
In the survey, executives from Fortune 1000 companies cited multiple factors impeding their transformation efforts, including organizational alignment, agility and resistance. The common denominator? A whopping 95 percent of their issues stemmed from cultural challenges! Only 5 percent related to technology.
"If companies hope to transform, they must begin to address the cultural obstacles," the report states. And later it concludes, "Firms need to adopt a long-term approach, focusing on the complex cultural challenges as a starting point."
It's a brand new report but its findings are not news — not to people who have been managing strategic projects for a while. Organizations don't want to get left behind in the rush to leverage emerging technologies to execute strategy, deliver value and stay relevant. But the technology can't get ahead of the culture. And that's an old, stubborn truth that can't be automated or analyzed away.
How can companies address these cultural challenges to transformation and strategic implementation?
According to the report, while 92 percent of the companies highlighted the “need for agility” as the primary driver of Big Data/AI investment, 40 percent of these same companies identified “lack of agility” as the principle challenge to business adoption.
So they have to be more agile in their journey to agility? That might remind some of the classic "chicken or the egg" question. But for this dilemma, we know which comes first. Culture.
Project-driven organizations can't fix their culture without meaningful change in how their project teams operate. That starts with a commitment to collaboration, to learning, to autonomy, to trust.
Easier said than done? Of course. There is no simple template to follow or process to plug in. Organizations need people (and not just executives) who acknowledge the issues holding them back; who advocate for the needed changes; who represent the desired future in their day-to-day actions. When they get enough of those people, the culture is already changing for the better. Perhaps you're one of those people!
Flip a coin. Every other Fortune 500 companies from the year 2000 is now extinct. That's right — 52 percent of the Fortune 500 at the turn of the century is out of business today!
"It used to be enough to get customers to just buy things that you were selling. Now, you need customers who buy in to your company as a whole,” says Ryan Berman, author of Return On Courage. “Values-based, socially responsible, and purpose-driven companies are the ones that are winning today’s business game.”
In his book, Berman presents a business model for what he calls "courageous change." He wants organizations, teams and individuals to take thoughtful, calculated risks, whether it’s about developing a new product, implementing an innovative strategy, or simply voicing an opinion that upsets the status quo.
Berman’s five-step process, called P.R.I.C.E., is based on his experiences advising prominent brands such as Major League Baseball, PUMA and Subway, as well as interviews with leaders from Apple, Google, Dominos, Zappos and other successful companies. Berman discusses the reasoning behind each step and provides detailed worksheets to help readers implement the process. The process includes:
> Prioritize Through Values – Leaders must modernize, prioritize and then utilize their core values as critical decision-making filters for their organizations. Then they must strive to embody those select values into everything they do as a leader, team and company.
> Rally Believers – Leaders who cheerlead to their staff are not effective. Instead try Believership. The purpose of a Believership is to create Believers out of a company’s employees, prospects and customers. They may deliver bad news from time to time, but they always put the business first and prioritize what the company needs, even when it’s difficult.
> Identify Fears – This audit of fear is a more up-to-date, effective way to perform a SWOT analysis. Successful businesses proactively smoke out and address their biggest fears instead of suppressing them. By identifying fears — industry fears, product fears, service fears, and perception fears — companies begin the process of conquering their most complicated problems. They are able to drum up courageous solutions that shrink down these difficult, progress-halting hurdles.
> Commit To A Purpose – A powerful purpose is more than just words. Having an authentic cause drives conviction and keeps people motivated to come to work, even on tough days. True purpose becomes ingrained in the company culture; without it, turnover problems arise. Injecting a “rally-cry-in-your-why” also permeates outside the walls of the organization to transform one-time buyers into raving fans.
> Execute Your Action – Without taking action, companies are merely stuck in paralysis. When it’s time to innovate, courageous companies know how to “cover and move.” They “cover” their current products while they work to “move” toward their next revenue stream or innovation. And they get their most meaningful messages into the hands of advocates by utilizing the 4 P’s – Passion, Precision, Promoters, and a Point of View.
Berman makes a compelling case that courage does not need to be impulsive or excessively risky. He demonstrates, instead, that courage is a necessity in today’s constantly changing, highly competitive business environment. Leaders, project managers and teams must welcome change and make courage part of their daily activities.